It would appear that the needs of aging Holocaust survivors are being increasingly recognized.
Last month, following years of negotiations with the German government, the Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany announced increased financial assistance for child survivors of the Holocaust as well as for survivors of forced labor. This week, the Claims Conference reported that elderly Holocaust victims will receive significantly more aid in 2015.
Indeed, Claims Conference president Julius Berman said, total allocations to social service organizations around the world in 2015 will be $365 million. That is a 21 percent increase over 2014. In New Jersey, 12 social service agencies will receive a total of $6.5 million, more than double the amount for 2014.
Most of the increase has been earmarked for home care, which Mr. Berman called “the top social welfare priority for these survivors.”
“All Shoah victims should be able to receive the help and support that they need to live the rest of their lives in dignity, after having endured indescribable suffering in their youths,” he said. “This tremendous increase in funding will directly help many survivors, including those who need more help at home than they currently receive as well as those needing care for the first time.”
Home care is “intrinsic to enabling survivors to remain living in their own homes, in familiar surroundings, affording them a sense of safety, security, comfort and community,” he added.
The Jewish Family Services of Bergen and North Hudson, Greater Clifton-Passaic, and North Jersey will be among the organizations receiving increased allocations. The funds are entirely separate from the individual compensation payments distributed to Holocaust victims by the Claims Conference.
Leah Kaufman, the executive director of JFS of North Jersey, said that the average age of New Jersey survivors is 90. She agreed with Mr. Berman that the group has special needs.
“Here we have a group of people who, as a result of the war, are now experiencing the physical and psychological effects of it,” she said. Among the physical issues they face are gastrointestinal issues arising from malnutrition, dental problems, diabetes, and severe arthritis “from being out in the cold.”
Psychologically, she said, “it’s a lot worse” for them than for the average older adult; they are more likely to face such problems as night terrors and severe anxiety.
Some of these problems began surfacing over the past 10 to 15 years.
“When they first came here, people didn’t want to hear their stories,” Ms. Kaufman said. “In addition, ‘going there’ would emotionally paralyze them.” But now, as they have grown older, with some of them housebound, “they review their lives. For survivors, this is not the most positive thing” they can do.
Spouses of survivors with dementia also may find it hard to cope. With dementia comes the loss of short-term memory, “so they’re constantly reliving the wartime years. What do they remember? Seeing parents or a sibling shot in front of them. Hiding in a forest.”
In addition, she said, many elderly survivors didn’t have role models for growing old. “Being old in the camps meant death,” she said. “The whole idea of being sick is frustrating and frightening. Hospitalization is often a trigger, especially for those with memories of experimentation. You can imagine what goes through their minds.”
Ms. Kaufman said the Claims Conference gathered information from New Jersey’s JFS agencies that provide support services to this population. They were asked how many people could benefit from additional hours of home care or other kinds of assistance, such as hearing aids, dentures, or money for the medication and medical equipment that Medicare does not cover.
She said that some of this information was gathered through CafÃ© Europa, a social and supportive program based in Fair Lawn that brings Holocaust survivors together each month. For some, “this is the only time they see their friends.” Partially funded by the Claims Conference, the cafÃ© also is “an opportunity to bring services through the back door. We get to know the population and approach them to see how they’re doing.”
Through CafÃ© Europa, Jewish Family Service is able to reach out to the survivor community, identifying homebound, at-risk survivors who ordinarily would not have contacted the agency but are eligible for services.
Ms. Kaufman said that the increased funding for next year will “allow agencies to do aggressive outreach, identifying survivors who don’t call and are isolated. We’ll be able to go out into the community.”
CafÃ© Europa serves about 150 survivors. Other JFS services reach an additional 100 or so survivors. “Our population is fairly large,” she said. Each JFS agency receives a different allocation depending on the number of survivors in their community.
“We’re indebted to the Claims Conference,” Ms. Kaufman said. “The staff is thrilled about the ability to provide additional services.”
Susan Greenbaum, the director of JFS of Bergen and North Hudson, said that her agency provides services to approximately 35 survivors.
She agreed that home care “is the greatest need for this population” and said that while most people requiring such care live alone, sometimes both members of a couple need help.
Explaining that JFS subcontracts with outside agencies to provide this care, she said that “to date, we have been limited by funding in serving the number of people who require home care and giving them the number of hours they need.” But with the increased allocation, “in 2015 there will be some flexibility built into the funding that we haven’t had in the past, so we’ll have the opportunity to meet emergency needs” and to go beyond current restrictions that limit clients to 25 hours of home care.
Ms. Greenbaum said that her agency “has been serving people without funding, incurring deficits from year to year.” But now, “we can increase the number of people we can serve, and identify additional people who need help. At the limits of current funding, we were not aggressively looking.”